We tested the hypothesis that systemic immune/inflammatory challenge (endotoxin) activates the neuroendocrine stress axis centrally by stimulating the secretion of CRH and arginine vasopressin (AVP) into hypophyseal portal blood. In addition, we examined the temporal association between this stimulation of the stress neuropeptides and the inhibition of pulsatile GnRH and LH secretion. Using alert, normally behaving ewes, hypophyseal portal and peripheral blood were sampled simultaneously at 10-min intervals for 14 h. Temperature was monitored remotely by telemetry at the same interval. Endotoxin (400 ng/kg, iv bolus) or saline as a control was injected after a 4-h baseline period. Portal blood was assayed for CRH, AVP, and GnRH, and peripheral blood was assayed for cortisol, progesterone, and LH. In controls, hypophyseal portal CRH and AVP remained just above or at assay sensitivity, and cortisol showed a regular rhythmic pattern unaffected by saline and typical of basal secretion. In contrast, endotoxin potently stimulated CRH and AVP secretion into portal blood, and cortisol and progesterone into peripheral blood. Both CRH and AVP generally rose and fell simultaneously, although the peak of the AVP response was approximately 10-fold greater than that of CRH. The AVP in portal blood was not due to recirculation of hormone secreted into the peripheral circulation by the posterior pituitary gland, because the AVP increase in peripheral blood was negligible relative to the marked increase in portal blood. The stimulation of CRH and AVP coincided with significant suppression of GnRH and LH pulsatile secretion in these same ewes and with the generation of fever. We conclude that endotoxin induces central activation of the neuroendocrine stress axis, stimulating both CRH and AVP release into the hypophyseal portal blood of conscious, normally behaving ewes. This response is temporally coupled to inhibition of pulsatile GnRH and LH release as well as with stimulation of adrenal cortisol and progesterone secretion and generation of fever.
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